The Nature Of Death In Emily Dickinson
’s I’ve Seen A Dying Eye Essay, Research Paper
The Nature of Death in Dickinson’s “I’ve Seen A Dying Eye”
One of the most fascinating things that I find about Emily Dickinson’s poetry is her overwhelming attention to detail, especially her intriguing insights on death. “I’ve Seen a Dying Eye,” by Dickinson, is a poem about the nature of death. A sense of uncertainty and uncontrollability about death seems to exist in her poem. For example, the observer’s (who is also the speaker) speech seems hesitant and unsure of what he or she is seeing, partly because of the dashes, but also because of the words used to describe the scene. As the eye is observed looking for something, then becoming cloudy and progressing through more obscurity until it finally comes to rest, the person observing the death cannot provide any definite proof that what the dying person saw was hopeful or disturbing. The dying person seems to have no control over the clouds covering his or her eye, which is frantically searching for something that it can only hope to find before the clouds totally consume it.
Death, as an uncontrollable force, seems to sweep over the dying. More importantly, as the poem is from the point of view of the observer, whether the dying person saw anything or not is not as significant as what the observer, and the reader, carry away from the poem. The suspicion of whether the dying person saw anything or had any control over his or her death is what is being played on in the poem. If the dying person has no control, what kind of power does that give death? Did the eye find what it was looking for before the clouds billowed across their vision, and was it hopeful? These questions represent the main idea the poem tries to convey. Death forces itself upon the dying leaving them no control, and if something hopeful exists to be seen and “lived” after death, it is a question left for the living (including Dickinson) to ponder.
The idea that something exists after death is uncertain in this poem. Therefore, it is important that the point of view is that of the observer. The observer sees in the first few lines, “I’ve seen a Dying Eye/Run round and round a Room–/In search of
Something–as it seemed–” (ll. 1-3). From the start, the reader assumes the eye is searching for evidence of an afterlife, but only the dying person knows for what the eye is searching. The reader gets a sense that the observer, who represents the living, knows what the dying eye is looking for, but because the observer is alive, the answer is hidden from his or her eyes. By using the word “seemed,” Dickinson, along with her ever-present dashes, injects an element of doubt in the speaker’s voice as to whether something does exist. As in her other poems concerning the nature death, there is a “journey,” however long or short, that the dying person embarks upon.
Even though Death stopped for the speaker in “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”, he or she realizes the carriage ride is not an end. It is important to note that unlike the speaker in “I’ve Seen A Dying Eye” who also acts as an observer upon the dying person’s “journey,” the speaker in this poem acts as the dying person. The speaker recalls the horses’ position as if they were to keep moving forward toward eternity; thus concluding death is merely a door one passes through to reach another realm of existence. “Since then-’tis Centuries-and yet/ Feels shorter than the Day/ I first surmised the Horses Heads/ Were toward Eternity–” (ll. 21-24). The speaker’s journey with Death shows scenes from the past, “We passed the School, where Children strove”, as well as the future, “The Cornice-in the Ground” (ll. 9, 18). Therefore, the use of Death’s carriage provides an example of Death being the vehicle to transport the body through the remaining elements of human experience, as it is in “I’ve Seen A Dying Eye”. Although it is not a life-long journey, as it was in “Because I Could Not Stop For Death,” the dying person does travel through the obscurity of the clouds searching for something.
The eye’s journey through the clouds and the expanding obscurity represents the search for an existence after death. As the eye ran around the room the observer sees the eye’s journey, “Then Cloudier become–/And then–obscure with Fog–” (ll. 4-5). The observer, through his or her’s hesitant speech, has already proved that there is an uncertainty or wariness about what he or she is observing. Once again, because the observer has the central point of view, it is important that we realize it is his or her doubt and assumptions we are considering. As the clouds close in around the dying person’s eyes, the observer sees that the dying person has no control over them. It is as if the eye is still searching, while the clouds, representing death, close in around them. The eye is not only looking, but it seems to be frantically looking around for something beyond death.
With words like “run” used, a sense of urgency is added, and there seems to be a sense of panic in the dying person, which would indicate him or her having no control over the circumstances associated with death. If the clouds are to represent death, then the dying person having no control over the clouds, would, therefore, have no control over death. The impression that maybe the dying person in this poem is not ready to give herself to death comes through in the lines “Run round and round a Room–/In search of Something–as it seemed” (ll. 2-3). The eye’s “running” seems to denote some hurriedness, as if he or she is not prepared to die. This uncontrollability, or panic, that the observer sees the dying person struggling with is disturbing. Even more important for the observer is the question of whether the eye saw something before death closed in around it.
The most important part of the poem comes toward the end when the eye closes and ceases to search the room. “And then–[the eye] be soldered down/Without disclosing what it be/’Twere blessed to have seen–” (ll. 6-8). The eye, as discussed earlier, seems to be agitated and searching desperately for an afterlife existence. The dying person’s eye is then “soldered down” and fails to let the observer know what it saw, or if it saw anything. The use of the word “solder” implies to the reader that whatever answer the eye found beyond the clouds is now permanently sealed away from the living world. Obviously, the most important question in the observer’s mind, is what the dying person saw or was “blessed to have seen.” As the dying person passes from the realm of the living, he or she carries the answer to the question asked by everyone left behind-what lies ahead after death?
The primary question that the poem is posing for us concerns the doubts and questions that the observer is left to consider after he or she witnesses the death. In this poem, it seems that Dickinson is more interested in how the observer, whether in her poem or in real life, deals with the fact that what waits for us after death will always be unknown right until the final moment when Death’s clouds envelope us or its carriage comes to take us to another realm of existence. The observer seems envious of the corpse, as implied in the lines, “And then–be soldered down/Without disclosing what it be/’Twere blessed to have seen” (ll. 6-8). The observer watched the dying person progress through the dark clouds looking for something or some meaning, and a familiar interest was sparked. The observer wants to know the answer and feels cheated when the eyes “solder down,” implying that the answer is lost forever, or until the speaker dies.
It seems that we sometimes, as in the case of this particular observer, envy a dead person because they have discovered the answer to a haunting question-what lies ahead after death? The reality of the situation is that because we-the observer, Dickinson, and the reader(s)-choose to ponder that question, we give death a certain power over our lives. In other words, by spending our whole life in uncertainty about death we constitute a kind of “journey” towards death without having to experience any of the physical pain. The realizations and guesses that we make pertaining to death make up the various stops along the way with the destination being that moment when the truth is revealed. The uncertainty about death and what remains after controls those who are still traveling in their journey, like Dickinson during the time she wrote this poem.
A glimmer of hope remains at the end of this journey, according to Dickinson. In the last line, “Twere blessed to have seen–,” a hope hangs on the word “blessed.” The word rings in our heads as a positive answer to the questions we ask. The other meaning which could be surmised from that line is that what awaits us is not necessarily “blessed” or good, but that the observer thinks the dying person is now blessed because he or she finally knows the answer to the life-long question. It seems that Dickinson purposefully leaves the poem open-ended to keep a sense of uncertainty alive in her poem. The only time the uncertainty of death is made certain is during occurs when our eyes begin their search through the engulfing clouds.